The MAGA hat panhandler

I had to stop and learn about this man.

And yes, it was the Make America Great Again hat that caught my eye.

You don’t see many people in blue-dominated Denver wearing them and to see a man panhandling while wearing the iconic hat piqued my interest since I love little anecdotes, moments of irony and unusual stories.

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Casey panhandles with a Make America Great Again hat at the corner of Logan and Speer in Denver. He says he gets “awkward” looks from drivers.

For about 10 minutes I spoke with this man just outside my news station as he panhandled with his dog, Jameson. He had a sign that said, “Sharing is Caring Anything Helps Thank You.”

He says his name is Casey and claims to have worn the hat since President Trump’s first day in office. Early in our conversation, he pointed out he is black and part Native American and has been sleeping on Denver’s streets for the past week.

He’s originally from Oregon, but recently arrived in Denver from the Grand Junction area.

Casey comes across as a jovial man, quick with a handshake who is eager to explain why he wears the hat, which is a bit hard to follow.

 

Based on our friendly chat, I still can’t tell if it was a dare from a friend, an expression of art, or if it’s just to grab attention from drivers who may have extra cash.

Casey calls himself an artist and a “photographer” who is traveling the country to do “good deeds” while wearing the Make America Great Again hat.  Later, after we spoke, I learned he called my station earlier asking for a news profile on his effort to spread his “good deeds.”

I asked Casey if I could direct him to any resources in town for homeless help. He didn’t seem interested, saying the homeless shelters “are too dirty” and that he makes plenty of money panhandling to cover his hunger.

His dog Jameson seemed active and healthy when I reached down to introduce myself to the little guy. Jameson had a little bowl of water next to Casey’s cart as he cooled off in a bit of shade.

I asked Casey several times if he was a Trump supporter. Each time, he would laugh, step back and repeat “I’m just an American.”

Our friendly conversation ended, and I left Casey wondering about where he and Jameson would sleep tonight as thousands of other people in Denver make the pavement their beds.

A simple bridge to the past thanks to a small town reporter

He died years before I was born, yet the words of a small town reporter give me a colorful piece of his life.

It’s a reminder for me, as a journalist, that even the most simple stories and anecdotes that I may consider inconsequential may have the potential to reverberate for someone far into the future.

After navigating the microfilm archives at New Mexico Highlands University a couple of weeks ago (with help of course), I finally found the image of my great grandfather standing before a simple footbridge he built over the Pecos River not long before he died.

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Photo likely taken by Nancy Miglin who worked for the Las Vegas Optic in 1973

The image is splotchy, in black and white, yet the words describing this simple man with a simple idea are so colorful, I can almost feel the warmth of the sun that day he was visited by a reporter from the Las Vegas Optic back in 1973.

Here’s that article in full:

HEADLINE: San Jose’s oldest takes time to build a bridge

Las Vegas Optic –  July 10th, 1973

By: Nancy Miglin

He eagerly and easily maneuvers down the twisting steep path along the bank to his bridge. Then with the agility of a teenager, he climbs up the board plank ladder and steps onto the suspension bridge which he says took him about two weeks to construct.

The short, grey-haired man perches precariously against one of the cable handrails, however he seems “at home” there as when standing on the banks of the Pecos River. He points to a spot on the north bank where a garden is being tenderly cared for and where an apple orchard grows. If you look closely you can see some adobe ruins and he says he was born there 85 years ago.

Roman Lopez is the oldest resident of San Jose and has the distinction of being the village bridge builder, too. However instead of enjoying his comfortable home in the village, Roman spends his summers at a two-room house he built three years ago. Most of the time he will be found in back of the dwelling, down by the Pecos river, usually tending one of his gardens.

One of the best garden spots, he says, is down across the river on land owned by his nephew Gabriel Gallegos. Years ago, there had been an old foot-bridge across the Pecos there and if you were fleet of foot and blessed with balance, you could make it across without having to take the road which fords the river, about one mile downstream.

Roman explains that the road isn’t always reliable and when the water is high, it becomes impassable. “I’d been thinking about building a bridge for a long time,” Roman says. Then when the material became available from his son-in-law, Adolfo Blea, and help was offered by his nephew, Gabriel, his plans took shape early in May. After two weeks of steady work, the Pecos was spanned by a nearly 36-foot long cable-suspension bridge, about which Roman says, “will last longer than me.”

Roman built the bridge when the water was high, and people who come to view the structure constantly wonder how it was built without anyone getting in the water. Roman then explains how he took twine, threw it from the north to the south bank of the river, and then ran the first cables across with it. “We lost a lot of twine,” Roman admits. “That was the hardest job – to get it across at first.”

After the first two cables were secure, Roman began laying flooring boards. Stooping down to sit on the bridge, he shows how he pushed planks from one end of the bridge to the other, using the leverage of his legs and feet. He tells how his foot once got caught between two boards and how he almost fell into the swollen river.

In May, when Roman was building the structure, the Pecos, now about 10 feet below the bottom of the bridge was nearly up to the flooring. It was the most water in the river since 1904, Roman said, and it helped him decide that this was the year to build the bridge.

When the 2×4 and 2×3 planks were in place, they were fastened with crossboards. Support wires were added and two handhold cables were strung. After two weeks, the work was finished, and the first bridge he had ever built spanned the Pecos.

Roman says he has more plans for strengthening the bridge, which may include adding support beams sunk deep in the bed of the Pecos River. He plans to add more support wires and may even put chicken wire down from the hand cables to the floorboards for additional security.

Roman’s grandchildren who live nearby dash merrily across the bridge and bring their busy grandfather something to drink. Roman’s business and love for the outdoors is explained by his daughter Louise Blea who says “He was a rancher for years and just can’t stay cooped up inside.”

The old man walks confidently across his bridge back to the other side of the river giving an offering hand to those not so used to the sway of the structure.

Although he speaks just a little English, and you may speak only a little Spanish, his broad smile and nod tells all; he is proud and pleased that you have come to see his bridge.

The terror of Casa Bonita’s monkey-rat

If Cartel Barbie had a home, it would look exactly like the outer façade of Casa Bonita, with its tacky pink tower and cupcake décor.

It was inside this Mexican fiesta universe, sometime in the year 1993, I experienced a moment of great terror and embarrassment that has long lived in my consciousness since age 12 or so.

I choose to write about this incident now because I recently came across an image on Casa Bonita’s website that triggered this unfortunate memory and I believe putting this story out there will serve as a warning—a lesson.

What’s contained in this photo is – shall I put this bluntly – the image of the son of the bitch who ruined my first experience at Casa Bonita.

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That’s the culprit on the left.

There it is on the left. I’m not sure if it’s a rat, a monkey or whatever, but it’s clearly some sort of mammalian creature wearing a sombrero and a vest.

To be fair, the person wearing the furry suit is very likely not the person who was wearing this outfit that horrible day back in 93.

And full disclosure – it’s possible this may not be the actual furry, however, seeing the image on Casa Bonita’s website is enough to trigger.

I must point out the furry has a tail, which is a crucial part of this story.

I give it a 95% chance this is the bastard.

Now to the story, which may bore you and may not be quite significant and worthy for such a long post, however you’re still reading at this point so let’s go down this dumb path.

Actually, let’s go up to the entrance of Black Bart’s Hideout where I had the terrible encounter with monkey-rat.

Some context: I was hopped up on sopapilla honey and soda.  I just finished a cliff diving show. I was free to roam anywhere within the Casa Bonita dimension, fueled with sugar and thrills. 

Photo taken last year. I’m pointing at the very spot where I had the encounter with the monkey-rat, based on my memory. Black Bart’s Hideout is just behind me.

As I made my way up to the mouth of the cave, there in front of me was a big tail.  

Conditioned to believe such people who wear furry costumes are willing to subject themselves to the torture of children, I grabbed that tail and yanked….hard.

The monkey-rat pivoted quickly. As its big face came into view, I put my fists in a boxer’s pose and began to lightly Muhammad Ali the furry face while laughing.   

Immediately, the furry took of his head, and to my astonishment, revealed the very small head of a very sweaty and very angry man.

With matted hair, a red face and veins bulging like tree roots on his forehead, the irate mouse/monkey/human hybrid unleashed a verbal assault just a few inches from face.

I felt spit and maybe a shower of sweat.

I broke this man.

And he broke me.

I can’t remember what was said, but I remember the words “I’M JUST TRYING TO DO MY JOB!!!” being screamed at me, over and over and over.

I ran from monkey-rat-man with absolute terror. A strangulation was imminent. 

Thankfully, I found my table next to the cliff side, but didn’t reveal the incident to my parents. I sulked.   

The cliff divers were no longer fun and I wanted out of this demented place.

And that is my story with monkey-rat.

If there is any lesson here, it’s don’t trust anybody wearing a furry suit….and DON’T touch their tail.

(In the end, I adore everything about this place and always love going back….but I hope I don’t see the monkey-rat furry again.)

How to find the joy you had when you were a kid

Confession: I still sneak a visit through toy aisles when I’m shopping for my adult life.

It’s always exciting to see what’s new in the modern toy universe as I wonder what it would be like to set that Lego kit loose from its prison of plastic and cardboard.

I rarely buy anything because I’m an adult.  I’m too old for that nonsense and it’s immature. Bills are waiting at home and I need to Swiffer my kitchen.

But wait…..I’m lying a bit here.

That inner voice that tells me you shouldn’t get that is lying too.

I still buy toys like Nerf guns, trinkets for my desk and other weird items.

These purchases usually occur at three in the morning when I’m wide awake, scrolling through my phone trying to find peace in the adult cycle of wake up/work/sleep.

Recently I decided to jump into the Harry Potter universe since I’ve never read the books. I’ve never watched the movies either.

The other morning, while finishing a chapter of the first  book (the part where Harry is shopping with Hagrid), I had a great sense of childish adventure and delight. I loved the feeling of discovering something fun and new.

After putting the book down so I could get ready for the workday, a thought occurred to me:

You become a successful adult when you find the same joy in life as you did when you were a child.

Okay, so how do you find that joy/success?

Get over your adult self:

Perhaps it’s the trauma of realizing Santa isn’t real that made us become cautious with our own imaginations.

Accept the fact that some elements of adulthood aren’t real either, as we see through advertisements and other media designed to trick us into believing joy can be found in material wealth.

Only a few people in this world can afford to buy a Lexus for Christmas, complete with a big red bow parked out front of a $1.5 million-dollar home that looks like a museum.

When we were kids, we found joy near the swing sets and sandbox. There was no price of admission or requirement of high financing.

Get over others

Those who tell you to “grow up” are people who probably yearn for their lost childhood the most.

We often behave in certain ways and sacrifice our own happiness for the approval of others and for what society expects of us.

If someone makes fun of you for obsessing over something you like, whatever that may be, that is not your problem. Their own vacuum of sadness will try to suck the fun you’re having. Ignore these people.

Take a risk

I’m not talking about jumping off a cliff here.

I’m talking about trying things you’ve been cautious about because they’re not geared for adults.

We all have that inner voice that prevents us from doing what we really want. Over the years, that voice has gained power and is fueled by fear of embarrassment and social rejection.

We are afraid to find the same joy we had when we were kids because there is a certain belief that such carefree thought is carelessness. Not so.

I’ll end this post with this great quote from Walt Disney:

“Too many people grow up. That’s the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old.”

See you in the toy aisle!

I just tried the new ride-sharing electric scooters hitting Denver

It’s called Lime-S and you’ll start to see loads of these electric scooters around downtown Denver today.

I geeked out when a coworker told me about today’s roll out, so I downloaded the Lime app, created an account, and quickly found a scooter near my place during the lunch break.

Once I walked up to the scooter, I clicked on the unlock icon in the app. Then my phone’s camera opened up so I could take a picture of the QR code on the handlebars.

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Within seconds the scooter unlocked. It was either my phone or the scooter that made an interesting sound signaling I was good to go.

I headed back to work on the Cherry Creek bike trail from the REI store at Confluence Park.

Lime says the scooters top out at 14.9 mph since most cities have a 15 mph limit.

During today’s ride, the odometer on the scooter flashed up to 16 and 17 mph once or twice along the trail. I tried to kept it at 15 mph the whole way.

I  passed some people on bikes while other people passed me. I got some interesting looks as I glided along the trail.

The scooter itself is very light and gave me a feeling I was 6 inches taller.

Taking even one hand off the handlebars increases the wobbliness of the ride. Gotta be careful with that.

With both hands, it’s a stable ride but I can see cases where people may crash if they’re not careful.

When it came time to end the ride, I opened up the app and clicked on the end ride icon. The scooter made a noise signaling it was locked. I parked it by the curbside so other users could find and grab it.

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I was charged $2.25 for a three mile ride. Worth it?

I think so since it took me only about 14 minutes to get to work from home. I didn’t have to deal with traffic and the weather was awesome.

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Overall, it was a very easy and efficient experience.

You can see the company’s FAQ here. 

 

I had the new Shake Shack green chile cheeseburger. Here’s what it’s like:

The official name of this beautiful bastard is the Green Chile CheddarShack Burger. 

As guy with New Mexico roots who’s had his share of green chile burgers, I happily welcome this new and majestic feast to Denver.

This is gonna sound like a first date with a burger, so let’s make it so.

Before I first met GCCSB, I was invited to a VIP “housewarming” event a couple of days before the official opening of the new Denver Shake Shack location at 30th and Larimer.

It officially opens on March 21st, so I’m among the first people to put my lips on GCCSB.

I knew I was going to meet GCCSB, so I was on my best behavior and knew I couldn’t scream like a little girl when I would first lay eyes on it.

As I walked into the crowded event, a Shake Shack employee was standing there with a tray of GCCSBs, nicely arranged in a row. I grabbed one, sat down, and got to business.

GCCSB isn’t a typical chile cheeseburger. This is different.

The chile is crunchy and isn’t roasted. There’s also pickled jalapeños mixed with the anaheim chile peppers (I’m not sure yet if they’re Hatch chile peppers) along with sport peppers. This gives the burger somewhat of a sweet taste.

It also isn’t spicy. I understand Shake Shack puts vinegar in the burger to bring down the kick, which for me, is *tad* of a let down, but it’s cool.

Was it a bad date? Hell no.

It was great.

I hope to see GCCSB again, and again, and again.

It’s a nice twist from a typical green chile cheeseburger.

But will it be my main squeeze?

Only when I’m here in Denver…..

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A few moments after my first date with Shake Shack’s new green chile cheeseburger, aka, Green Chile CheddarShack Burger. 

The dark that showed me the light

Much has been written about the Dark Side of the Moon album over its 45 year history. There is likely no other album that continues to be dissected and analyzed for its genius and significant influence.

Here is my piece about the album that had an everlasting influence on my taste in music. Call it a love note, if you wish. I adore every track.

The first time I listened to the entire album was sometime around 1992. At age 13, I was bored and alone at home going through my father’s CDs. I heard a couple of tracks already and was a little familiar with two or three of the songs. Money. Time.

I put in the CD into our player, put on some headphones, laid down and hit play. Little did I know this would be the beginning of an intense infatuation with all things Pink Floyd.

Describing how music can compel certain imagery and emotions is sometimes futile, especially since we each experience music in our own subjective and abstract ways. But I’ll try for a second.

Once the first track Speak to Me transitioned to On the Run, I was instantly transported into a different place as electronic sounds and the stereo effect flowed back and forth between my ears and consciousness.

The spacey sounds coupled with the airport announcement voices painted one hell of an image on black canvass. This is art that compels the subconscious to produce images in concert with sound. It’s one hell of an internal light show.

At this moment I fell in love with electronic music. When I play the album today in the same manner, the same images and feelings flood back across a black plane just as they did when I had a moment with music.

So here’s to you Dark Side of the Moon. Thanks for showing me the light!

The Lawnmower Incident – 30 Years Later

When I smell freshly cut grass or hear a lawnmower in the distance, I’m instantly transported back in time to the most traumatic experience of my life. It’s amazing how smell and human memory are tied together.

It was Presidents Day in 1988, exactly 30 years ago to the date of this post.

Sometimes I forget the incident happened. It was so long ago.

Other times, when I sit and really think about it, I wonder how much of an impact the lawnmower incident had on my development and psyche as a child. I recall therapy sessions not much longer after I was let out of the hospital.

I’ve never really written about the lawnmower incident before and I’m not sure why I write about it now. Perhaps the anniversary of that day has me thinking much about what happened.

In short, a friend and I had the holiday day off from school and we were sent to a neighborhood babysitter. A gardener who worked at our condo complex in Harbor City, California would let the neighborhood kids joyride on his big riding lawnmower (the kind that operates like a tank with two handles for steering and acceleration).

While out playing in a grassy area, my friend Matt and I spotted the gardener and of course he let us ride and play.

My friend Matt sat in the driver seat as I sat at the front of the lawnmower over the metal plate that concealed the blade. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember trying to jump off and I slipped and fell under the lawnmower.

I won’t go into the gory details. I’ll just say the blades took off my right big toe.

It was painful and traumatic. I went into shock. I recovered pretty quickly.

30 years later, I’ve managed to live life just fine without a toe. I played soccer in high school, ran a half marathon a few years ago and walk and run with no problem.

I keep the shoe I was wearing at the time. A Nike high top. This may seem kind of weird for some of you reading this, but I save it as a reminder of what happened. The shoe likely prevented my injury from getting far, far worse.

The shoe I was wearing during the lawmower incident. It likely prevented my injury from getting worse.

I was lucky when I compare my incident to other lawnmower accidents across the country.

Kids have lost feet.

Sometimes these accidents can be fatal.

This USA Today article says thousands of lawnmower accidents happen to children every year. About 83,000 lawnmower accidents were documented across all ages in 2011.

That’s amazing.

I hope if someone, especially parents, come across this post, they’ll be mindful of the dangers.

Confessions of a nasal spray addict

Hello everyone, my name is Jeremy and I’m addicted to nasal spray.

Yep. It’s a real problem and I’m learning many others have suffered with their dependency on this stuff.

I don’t mean to make light of any addiction with the tone of this post, yet there is an immediate smirk I get from people when they learn I’m trying to recover from the over-the-counter nasal spray.

Perhaps it began early last year when I was dealing with severe stuffiness during allergy season. My wife thinks my problem has been around much longer. She’s probably right.

Empty vials of nasal spray can be found throughout the trail of my daily life. In my glove box. My dresser near my bed. I currently have three in my work bag, two of them empty and one is full. My desk at work has a few plastic carcasses of these things. If these vials suddenly turned into $5 bills, I’d be finding money all over the place.

I can tell you which nasal spray brands are the cheapest, where to find the great deals and what type of bottles have the best delivery. The squeeze bottles suck and don’t’ work as well. The ones that operate like a syringe get the fluid right up there. It’s sad to say, but my addiction has resulted in an absurd connoisseurship of nasal sprays.

When I use it, I receive immediate relief from intense stuffiness. It’s almost euphoric to be able to breathe from the torture of a stuffy nose.

There’s a whole psychological element too. I get anxious when I don’t have a full vial either in my pocket or within an arm’s reach. These little damn vials have become necessary companions to my wallet and keys.

I spray multiple times in the morning when I wake up. In the mid-morning. In the afternoon. The mid-afternoon. In the evening. And always around 2 a.m. or so when I wake up with severe breathing problems. It feels like some sort of gremlin stuffed wet tissue up my nostrils in the middle of the night rendering my nose feeling like a heavy block of cheese stuck between my eyes.

I knew I had a problem when I attended a concert at Red Rocks during the summer last year. I didn’t have my nasal spray with me and I suddenly couldn’t breathe at all. I didn’t enjoy the music and just wanted to get back to a Walgreen’s for refuge.

Finally, my wife convinced me to see a doctor. I went last week and he prescribed me a steroid spray to use once in the morning and once at night. He said it’s a “bedside thing” I should do to begin and end my day.

As for the OTC stuff, he recommended I slowly wean myself off the spray. Instead of doing multiple sprays in each nostril, I should only do one. And then I should start reducing the times I spray throughout the day the following week. Eventually, hopefully, on the third week or so I can stop using the steroid spray all together.

I’m happy to say I haven’t used the OTC stuff at all for three days. My last time was this past Monday while on a flight from Denver to Dallas. I got seriously stuffy on the plane and I used it once in each side of my nose.

I still get stuffy, but not as bad. Every few hours my nose will get a strong tingle, then one side will suddenly get stuffy and blocked. I’ve been resisting the urge to spray and I think it’s working. After about 30 minutes or so, my nose will clear up a bit.

So what can be said about this?

This nasal spray addiction is a real thing, and after confessing on twitter, many other people have told me they’ve suffered too. I’ve received all sorts of support from my followers and recommendations: Saline spray. The Neti pot. Breathe strips. Only spray in one nostril.

 

 
So far, I haven’t had to use these alternatives.

The real test will be when I get back to Denver on Friday. I’m feeling clear here in Dallas, however I may be allergic to something back home. We’ll see.

I should have paid attention to the warning labels on these bottles. You’re only supposed to use them for a few days and then stop, even if symptoms continue. Overuse, I’ve read, can result in severe damage to the nasal cavity and a loss of smell. I hope this hasn’t happened to me. We’ll see.

For those of you who find yourself here looking for relief, I highly recommend a doctor’s visit. The steroid spray seems to be helping.

Good luck.

“Hi Jeremy…..Okay, I have to go now.”

I write this from a hotel room in Phoenix with some time alone to finally process a goodbye to my paternal grandmother. Her life came to a sunset a couple of weeks ago on Thanksgiving.

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My grandmother, Margie Reardon (Nelson) 1933-2017

 

Even though her mind was fogged with memory loss and her failing body was resigned to a bed in a distant Pennsylvania nursing home, I was able hear her voice one last time.

My aunt held the phone close to her bedside. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me.

“Hi Jeremy,” I heard with familiar enthusiasm. My aunt said she gave a “big smile” as she said my name.

I really want to believe this is the exact greeting my grandmother said to me on the day I met her for the first time at age 5.

I don’t remember much about that day in 1984.

I just remember seeing my father cry for the first time while I was trying to comprehend that this light-skinned woman named Margie Reardon (Nelson) was somehow related to me and that I should call her “grandma.”

The story of how my father tracked her down 30 years after his adoption is for another time. It’s too complex and too long to begin tonight. I know if I started, I’d be up writing until 2 a.m.

I will say her decision to give up my father 63 years ago has a profound and everlasting effect on my own personal identity today. The 17-year-old ranch hand she fell for back in 1953 in New Mexico is a complete mystery. He may have been oblivious to my father’s conception.

I wish I pressed my grandmother more about my father’s father, but those are waters I thought were too dark to explore, especially over the last few years as her memory dwindled.

I often wonder what it was like for her to see her grandchild for the first time that day in 1984……the child of the child she let go.

I had the blessing of seeing my grandmother a few times over my life. She came to my wedding eight years ago. She was the first to greet me after the ceremony with a big smile.

Now’s the time to say goodbye here, through the therapy of writing.

And as I come to a close, I just realized in the paragraphs above I described three greetings with my grandmother.

A day to reconcile a birth.

A day for a wedding.

A day to acknowledge an end.

“Hi Jeremy,” are the last few words she said to me. I’ll remember them forever as a beginning and an end.

I take comfort in that greeting and oddly, what she said immediately after:

“Okay, I have to go now.”

I understand grandma. It’s okay.

 

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My grandma at my wedding in 2009